Learning about genealogy opens the door to a rich history. From a practical perspective, it can also provide you with an enriched medical history dating back several generations.
There are many places you can visit to research genealogy and to develop your family tree. The following article is a guide you can use in your quest.
- Ask relatives. One of the easiest ways to gain information on your family history is by asking your relatives. Most of your older relatives love telling stories about their younger years, their relatives and the family history. You can be sure they will invite you in for some cookies and tea or hot chocolate as they recall their favorite tales from the family lore. Aside from stories, they may also possess important heirlooms or documents that can help to unravel a family's history.
If you are asking relatives about the family history for a genealogical chart, or to establish a solid family tree, then you need to make sure you take a notebook and pen or pencil so you can take notes.
- Join genealogy websites. The Internet has provided a medium for genealogists to research their families in worldwide databases. Prior to the rise of the Internet, much of genealogical research was conducted offline through family interviews or at the public library; nowadays, online public databases are accessible from your home with the click of the button.
One of the biggest websites of this kind is genealogy.com. You can enter your family name and search for your relatives, create and save your own family tree, or even contact others who are researching the same family and collaborate by sharing information and resources. However, most of these services cost money. Other than making your family tree, you have to pay a membership fee to gain access to information past the initial search. You can see how many results you have, but you cannot view them.
Membership fees cost varying amounts from site to site, though an annual membership at genealogy.com is $49.99. This may seem like a lot of money, especially if your family has a sketchy family history, though the site virtually guarantees you will find some sort of lead. However, you can search on the forums, which is a nice way to connect with others who have genealogical information that is pertinent to your family.
- Check out the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a child I recall spending long hours in the researching library at our local Mormon Research Center. As someone who was not Mormon, I did not understand why we spent so much time there if we were researching our family's history. As I research my own family history, I have found the resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints incredibly helpful, and now they are online!
The Mormon Church offers the biggest, free database of family history on the web. You can, of course still visit the large genealogical centers that are run by the church in Salt Lake City or various other cities across the world if you prefer to conduct research offline.
- Share resources. On your quest to find more information, you may discover other family members who are conducting research of their own. If someone else in your family is doing research, then by all means share with one another. You may have discovered a link she was missing, or she may have information unavailable to you. Sharing resources can help cut your work in half, especially if you develop a long-lasting genealogical relationship. Family research at its best is a collaborative effort for most families, since records in the past are shoddy, hard to read and often inaccurate.
- Translating documents. You may encounter documents that are written in languages you cannot understand. There is a good chance that members of your family have immigrated in the relatively recent past. What can you do in these situations to be able to decipher the documents?
If you are sharing resources, you may be able to turn to others in your family who speak the language or know how to read the language. If the language is too obscure or you do not know anyone who will be able to decipher important family documents, you can pay a professional translator to do the job for you. Finding a translator is just a click away on the internet.
You will not want to trust the free translators. Instead, just hop over to your favorite search engine and enter the language and the term 'translation services.' You should be able to find a professional in your area, or one out of town. You can always fax a copy of the document to the professional if it will be necessary.
- Focus on all possible names. One of the biggest mistakes budding genealogists make is being adamant about the spelling of their names. Avoid this mistake because, prior to the last hundred years, the spelling of names varied greatly. Some names were spelled phonetically, while others enjoyed a variety of accepted spellings.
While Smith and Smithe or Johnson and Johnston may not be the same exact names, it may be they are actually variations of the same name and the same family.
Potential reasons for changed names were numerous in the past.
Keep solid records. You will never trace your entire family history in one day. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find exactly what you seek, or to gather information on as many generations as you wish to develop. Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime and person to finish the research properly.
- The name was shortened (i.e. Mulryan has become Ryan).
- The name was changed at Ellis Island because it was too hard to spell or pronounce.
- The name was spelled phonetically (i.e. McKeon/McKean becomes McEwen or MacKeown).
- The family changed their name slightly or changed the spelling between generations (i.e. Smith & Smithe).
You should keep clear, concise records. Hard copies should be filed away in a filing cabinet, folders or through some other form of organization if possible. This way, you can find any information you need, quickly and efficiently.
There are some very nice family tree makers that you can use to keep family records. Among the most popular software is The Family Tree Maker software. It allows you to keep detailed records on every member of multiple families you are researching. You can also connect to the Internet, and search the database at genealogy.com since there are often special deals that allow you a free period of searching just for purchasing the software.
While software is nice for organizing your tree, you should always keep a hard copy handy in case your computer crashes or you suffer other technical problems that cause your information to be deleted.